de·​tain | \ di-ˈtān How to pronounce detain (audio) , dē- \
detained; detaining; detains

Definition of detain

transitive verb

1 : to hold or keep in or as if in custody detained by the police for questioning
2 obsolete : to keep back (something due) : withhold
3 : to restrain especially from proceeding was detained by a flat tire

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Other Words from detain

detainment \ di-​ˈtān-​mənt How to pronounce detain (audio) , dē-​ \ noun

Choose the Right Synonym for detain

keep, retain, detain, withhold, reserve mean to hold in one's possession or under one's control. keep may suggest a holding securely in one's possession, custody, or control. keep this while I'm gone retain implies continued keeping, especially against threatened seizure or forced loss. managed to retain their dignity even in poverty detain suggests a delay in letting go. detained them for questioning withhold implies restraint in letting go or a refusal to let go. withheld information from the authorities reserve suggests a keeping in store for future use. reserve some of your energy for the last mile

delay, retard, slow, slacken, detain mean to cause to be late or behind in movement or progress. delay implies a holding back, usually by interference, from completion or arrival. bad weather delayed our arrival retard suggests reduction of speed without actual stopping. language barriers retarded their progress slow and slacken also imply a reduction of speed, slow often suggesting deliberate intention medication slowed the patient's heart rate , slacken an easing up or relaxing of power or effort. on hot days runners slacken their pace detain implies a holding back beyond a reasonable or appointed time. unexpected business had detained her

Examples of detain in a Sentence

They were detained by the police for questioning. He claimed he had been illegally detained. Unexpected business had detained her.
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Recent Examples on the Web Police in Aurora, Colorado, involved in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain had no legal basis to stop or detain him. Aj Willingham, CNN, "5 things to know for February 23: SCOTUS, White House, Covid-19, US police, Australia," 23 Feb. 2021 Federal prosecutors have argued that Munchel's offenses are serious enough to detain him pending trial to ensure the community's safety. CBS News, "Release of alleged "zip tie guy" from Capitol riot blocked," 25 Jan. 2021 Authorities took Parscale to Broward Health Medical Center under the Baker Act, a Florida law that allows authorities to detain and treat someone believed to be a threat to themselves or others. Washington Post, "Police use of force on ex-Trump campaign manager familiar during crisis calls, experts say," 30 Sep. 2020 Although there are also militant groups in Baluchistan that stage attacks on soldiers, separatists also often attack troops in the province, prompting authorities to detain suspects. Abdul Sattar, Star Tribune, "Group: Pakistani Baloch dissident buried amid high security," 25 Jan. 2021 Amid the surge of people, the government was unable to hear and decide claims in the 20-day limit that it is allowed to detain families in immigration custody, forcing them to release people into the United States. Anna Giaritelli, Washington Examiner, "Biden ends Trump 'remain in Mexico' asylum policy," 21 Jan. 2021 Munchel had been arrested days early after photographs surfaced of him – wearing black, with his face covered – inside the Senate chamber carrying zip ties that could be used as flex cuffs to detain people. Danielle Wallace, Fox News, "FBI arrest another Tennessee man over Capitol riot selfie, Facebook post decrying Antifa, BLM," 18 Jan. 2021 The lawsuit, filed in May 2019 in Dallas County, alleges negligence by the company and states that security guards didn’t properly search or detain Juarez. Dallas News, "Man who fatally shot Dallas police officer at Home Depot in 2018 is sentenced to life without parole," 15 Jan. 2021 The family began leaving the party after that confrontation — an insult, since protocol demanded that nobody leave before Trujillo — prompting military officers to detain Minerva and her father. Gavin Edwards, New York Times, "Overlooked No More: Dedé Mirabal, Who Carried the Torch of Her Slain Sisters," 13 Jan. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'detain.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of detain

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for detain

Middle English deteynen, from Anglo-French deteign-, stem of detenir, modification of Latin detinēre, from de- + tenēre to hold — more at thin

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Time Traveler for detain

Time Traveler

The first known use of detain was in the 15th century

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Statistics for detain

Last Updated

27 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Detain.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Feb. 2021.

Style: MLA
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More Definitions for detain



English Language Learners Definition of detain

: to officially prevent (someone) from leaving a place : to hold or keep (someone) in a prison or some other place
formal : to keep or prevent (someone) from leaving or arriving at the expected time


de·​tain | \ di-ˈtān How to pronounce detain (audio) \
detained; detaining

Kids Definition of detain

1 : to hold or keep in or as if in prison The suspect was detained by police.
2 : to stop from going on : delay Snow detained our flight.

Legal Definition of detain

1 : to hold or keep in custody or possession property wrongfully detained a juvenile detained in a care facility
2 : to restrain from proceeding detained the driver and asked to see his license

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Comments on detain

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